The NBA playoffs have been way too predictable so far, which means the best is certainly yet to come. At least, that’s what we hope.
Yes, there has been some intrigue. We have been bemused at Russell Westbrook going all anti-Dirk with media members – meaning he gives them no respect at all – but we have seen only one series turn out to be hotly contested.
Truthfully, the key word to describe the playoffs after the first 10 days is: Borrrr-ing.
Maybe our outlook is a little jaded because the Mavericks aren’t involved. But honestly, it’s just been uneventful so far.
That will change in the second round, no doubt.
What we have learned, however, is that there is one team out there that has some distinct similarities to the way the Mavericks have been built and what they hope their future looks like.
The Mavericks have transitioned from the Dirk Nowitzki era and now are poised to build around two young star-level players in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
It’s very similar to what the Portland Trail Blazers have tried to do around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
It’s taken them awhile. And they haven’t gotten where they want to go yet. But the Blazers have slowly, steadily added and subtracted players around those two anchors and this spring, it is showing signs of paying off big time. They have the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 3-1 hole and can end that first-round series on Tuesday night.
They are the only so-called underdog to be ahead in a first-round series.
But should they really have been an underdog? They have put together a team that TNT analyst Charles Barkley has jumped on the bandwagon with and is declaring them a legitimate threat to make the NBA finals.
If they hadn’t lost center Jusuf Nurkic late in the season to an injury, it would be easier to see. But even so, the Blazers are showing that when you have two great players, it gives you a fighting chance every year to be in the conversation about teams that are going to have to be reckoned with.
The Blazers have made the playoffs six consecutive seasons and while they haven’t been past the second round, they stuck to their version of the process. And fans know that, every season, they have the potential to break through. So far, they’ve had the unfortunate luck of running into Golden State a couple times in the playoffs. That doesn’t help a team’s growth.
But this could be the year. They will meet either San Antonio or Denver in the second round, assuming they dispatch the Thunder.
So how does that relate to the Mavericks?
They have their two foundation pieces. And adding a third is not out of the question this summer.
And the reality is that this is a franchise that has missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons and hasn’t been out of the first round since winning it all in 2011. The hardest part of the rebuild is over. Management is confident about that.
But there still is work to be done and as the Blazers have proven, doing all the right things doesn’t guarantee instant success. This could take several seasons.
But as the Warriors get older and Houston still tries to prove that their 3-points-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach will work and produce a championship, teams like the Mavericks and Blazers and Denver and maybe Phoenix and Sacramento build and work toward getting their chance for all the stars to line up in their favor.
With that said, we will take a quick look at what’s happened in the first 10 days of the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference already has produced a sweep with Boston crushing Indiana and former Maverick swingman Wesley Matthews in what was in theory a mildly interesting matchup between the fourth and fifth seeds. It didn’t turn out that way.
By Tuesday night, the other three series in the East could be over in five games or less. The four heavyweights at the top of the East standings clearly flexed their muscle in the first round.
The good news is that the second round should be awesome. Boston and Milwaukee is the matchup everybody wanted. The Bucks still are relatively unproven with young superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. As good as he has been in this MVP season, he’s never been out of the first round of the playoffs. In fact, the Bucks’ franchise hasn’t been past the first round since 2001.
Going against the Celtics, who have been knocking on the door of the NBA finals the last two seasons, losing in the conference finals, will test whether the young Bucks are ready.
Meanwhile, Toronto and Philadelphia would provide another match between different sorts of teams. The Raptors are older and more experienced with Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol.
The Sixers still haven’t grown up completely behind Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but they infused some older talent the last couple years with J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
Suffice it to say that Sixers-Raptors should be a brawl.
Thankfully, the Western Conference has provided at least some first-round drama courtesy of the Spurs and Nuggets, who are tied 2-2 going into Tuesday’s fifth game. Both teams have won once on the other’s home floor. The Spurs continue to be the cockroaches of the NBA. No matter how old they get or who they plug into the system, they seem to survive from year to year.
The Nuggets have the home-court advantage, but until they prove that their young core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and others can handle playoff pressure, the skeptics will remain. Paul Millsap is their rock, but the Spurs simply have a world of experience that Denver doesn’t possess.
The final games of that series are must-watch.
Meanwhile, Golden State and Houston have gone about business routinely for the most part and they could send Utah and the LA Clippers, respectively, to the sideline by Wednesday.
The impending rematch of last year’s West finals will be riveting, even if it does happen in the second round.
So the bottom line is that we’re waiting for the fun stuff. The second round and conference finals often produce some of the most memorable playoff moments.